Someone’s right on the cusp of major over-exposure. But, till the fall:
Geeking Out About Storytelling with Joss Whedon
by Charlie Jane Anders
Joss Whedon is in the unique position of being both a cult icon and a huge mainstream creator, thanks to projects like Firefly and The Avengers. But both halves of his success spring from his ability to create addictive stories, that leave you desperate to know what happens next.
This interview was very kindly set up by Dark Horse Comics, so we tried to keep the interview pretty focused on the comics that Whedon is doing with them — including Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, Angel and Faith, and some upcoming Firefly comics. But we also took this opportunity to geek out about comics versus other media, and the nature of serialized storytelling.
You’ve said in the past that TV shows are a question, and movies are an answer. What are comics?
I will put comics in the TV camp, because of the serialized storytelling, the growth over the years… but at the end of the day, you do sort of come to them needing a thing that is both cinematic and has that kind of resolve. So… both. I feel like when Spider-Man defeats the Tarantula, you get your answer. But then you need to know where he’s going from there. And could I have made more of a Seventies reference than that? In my mind, it’s all Ross Andru. But I think it’s definitely both. Because you don’t just want to move forward. You want something that says, “I’m here for this hero to win the day.” The way you go see a movie and say, “I want that resolve.”
That kind of feeds into our next question. Historically, both TV and comics depended on the illusion of change. You were part of a generation that challenged that, adding more arc-based storytelling and actual change. Like, Buffy graduates high school, drops out of college, moves to San Francisco, and so on. Do you think that was a good move, in retrospect?
It was good for us. It was good for the kinds of storytelling that I want to do. Is it good for all comics? I don’t think so. Some things really should stay the same. Reed Richards should always have exactly this much gray. [Gestures at the sides of his head.] But um… You know, the problem is, when something goes on for as long as most things have, then they’re just looking for any change. Either they reboot it, or they do something drastic, because they can’t write the same thing over and over. I mean, TV shows don’t run since the Sixties. Whereas some of these comics have.
But with the newer stuff, the more graphic novel-y stuff, when you get a story that’s just about the progression of the story, for me it’s harder to dive in than when I know, “This guy is going to have this power and that’s the thing.” It’s a different experience. And for me, I feel like comics — that sort of comfort food that I refer to a lot of recent TV as — I seem to want that from comics.
You want the comfort food.
A little bit. I want to see the costume. I want to see the power. I want to know what the sitch is. And from there, I like the comfort food… but there’s a lot of exceptions. Like with the Luna Brothers’ Girls, which was a book that I never knew from issue to issue what was going to happen. I just adored it. But when I think about creating comics, I think more in terms of, “Why are we coming back? What do I love?” Not, “What can I change?”.
Now, Joss, listen to us carefully. Time to take a deep breath, man. Step backward. Chill. Enjoy your life and – this is our biggest suggestion – see if you can go for, oh, let’s say a month without being quoted anywhere. We mean, what if you say something even more brilliant, but everybody’s decided not to listen anymore? You can’t let that happen to you, Joss. You can’t let that happen to us.